Last month, UK Health Secretary Sajid Javed admitted in the House of Commons that the National Health Service waiting lists are nearing seven million. He also conceded that the “numbers will soar no matter what.”
The hiatus caused by the Covid pandemic is to blame for these astonishing numbers. It will take over three years to clear this massive backlog, provided the NHS is fully staffed and the infrastructure is expanded by at least 10 percent.
The recommended time cap from referral to first treatment is 18 weeks. Some patients with chronic conditions needing knee or hip surgery are waiting for over two years to be operated on. Low staff morale, the Covid pandemic, failure to recruit enough nurses and junior doctors, and unattractive pay are compelling current staff to look for better opportunities elsewhere.
Dental care is in even more dire straits. Over 10 percent of the NHS dentists left to practice privately during 2021. Residential care is always oversubscribed due to an aging population and longer life expectancy. Hospitals are often stuck with patients for months that are waiting for a bed in a Residential Care Home.
In its current condition, the NHS will not survive another decade. The picture of the NHS is truly grim, warranting some quick and effective ‘surgery’ to restore its old glory and reputation.
Around the millennium, the then Labour Government initiated the use of the private hospital sector to alleviate the burden on the NHS. The main beneficiaries were patients waiting for orthopedic surgery. Gradually, this trend crept into pathology, mental health, oncology, and interventional cardiology. Private hospitals were few and far in between. Today, there are over 515 private hospitals and nearly 2,000 clinics offering various treatments. Some of these hospitals treat NHS patients regularly. New private hospitals are being built at an unprecedented pace.
Before Christmas, I had the opportunity to visit the Cleveland Clinic which is being built in London. It will be ready to see its first patient in a few weeks from now. Sandwiched between Buckingham Palace and the mega-rich Knightsbridge, this project’s cost is over one billion pounds. The quality of infrastructure, surgical theatres, bed layout, and sheer expanse is very impressive. Even the facilities such as prayer rooms and family accommodation are provided at five-star comfort.
I was informed that this Clinic is expecting just under half of its patients to be referred via the NHS. The overseas patient numbers in the UK came down to a minuscule during the pandemic. But these numbers will increase rapidly once the restrictions are lifted. Another huge hospital is coming up on the Bournemouth seafront. As of today, 12 private hospitals are taking shape in the UK. There is a gap in patient care here; I am sure that private ventures will seize the opportunity.
What is India’s role in this very dynamic and evolving care sector business model? India is first or second in terms of health tourism, depending on which data one interprets. Estimated to be an over $3-billion market, cities like Chennai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore have hospitals giving the best care at reasonable charges.
Many clinicians working in such hospitals are trained in the UK and hold memberships and fellowships of Royal Colleges. They are well qualified and know the NHS etiquette while treating patients. Then, their linguistic skills are often better than the native speakers here. This is an advantage in India! A country with a caring and youthful workforce, India should ‘care about Diem.
This will create added employment and more revenue for the nation. There are some big players already, building mega projects in the care sector. I can envisage that in a decade or so, India will be the center of health tourism. It is an old practice for NRIs based in the West to seek medical treatment in India.
In Hyderabad, a Somali gentleman runs a successful agency catering to the medical needs of Somalis around the world. Patients are screened and consulted online before they arrive. He is probably a very small player in such a massive field. It will be wise not just to wait for patients from the West solely but to aim for globally.
There is also a massive opportunity in dental care and ophthalmology. The sky is the limit, provided peerless service is offered at affordable charges. Paradoxically, Indian film stars and sports personalities fly abroad for treatment. Privacy lures them overseas, I guess.
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